I’ve never understood why criminal confessions were so hard to get.
I mean, why does getting the truth out of someone always involve some torturous combination of physical brutality, psychological attack, inhumane intimidation, threats on family, sleep deprivation and ridiculous good cop/ bad cop routines (at least, in the Hollywood films and in U.S. off-shore detainment facilities)?
I just don’t get it.
Getting someone to confess their most hidden, unspeakable inner secrets is easy.
I do it every day.
All you need is a broth of new culture, a pinch of mild alienation, one heaping fingernail full of introspection, and a foreign language to translate the flavor. That’s it.
I mean, if I can do it, anyone can. I was never trained in the art of interrogation. I’m just a high-poverty-line ESL teacher. And, yet, just this week, I learned about a Taiwanese man’s forbidden liaisons with a Chinese woman of royalty, a Korean gal’s botched reconstructive facial surgery, and a Saudi Arabian’s story of claiming his wife upon first sight at age five and ‘re-having’ her at age 14.
And, it’s true. Speaking a second language allows you to say (and even think) things you would never feel comfortable or permitted to express in your own language.
That’s why I wasn’t at all surprised today by any of my students’ summaries of their respective childhoods. (We were practicing the form: “I used to…”)
“He used to jog, but now he watches 'American Idol'.”
(Aww… that’s cute.)
“When she was young, she used to collect stamps, but now she doesn’t. And she used to love 8-Man. He was a power magic cartoon hero. But now she doesn’t like.”
(Aww… that’s cute.)
“He used to use scissors cut worms. He used to pretend like he famous cooking chef… But, now he doesn’t cut worms. However, he is good at cooking.”
(Aww…that’s cute… in an I-used-to-fantasize-about-sea-urchins kind of way)
“She used to have a beard. She used to feel embarrassed because of beard.”
(Aww…that’s what? A beard? Why, that’s just trauma with fewer calories.)
“Yes, uh, she used to have a beard. This beard it was very dirty and it make.. uh.. made many problems. It is- was very noisy and it sometimes make-made messy. But now, she doesn’t have a beard.”
As a compassionate teacher aware of the unintentionally-revealed secrets exposed when conversing in a foreign language, I nodded and smiled, thinking to myself what an adept extractor of buried confessions I was. Yes, I had uncovered a poor Turkish woman’s young struggle with facial hair. So there, Guantanamo Bay questioners! Eat my graceful, torture-less tact!
Of course, now as I’m beginning to get my resume together for the secret service interrogation job I have always dreamed of having, I’m beginning to doubt my super-extraordinary, clandestine intelligence-unveiling abilities.
After all, when a Mexican from Guadalajara says “beard,” he probably just means “bird”….
And… unfortunately, I can’t think of a single Intelligence Agency that would be impressed by an interrogator with unmatched ability to expose past pet information.
(“Yeah, he might be planning to simultaneously detonate bombs in every Starbucks around the globe, but I’m not sure. What I do know, though, is that he had a guinea pig named Poinky when he was eight.”)
I’m ready to admit that I might not meet the qualifications to become a successful interrogator.
My aspirations of becoming an animal psychiatrist, however, are not yet squashed.
(“As a young parakeet, he was once called a mustache. That’s when all of the psychological abuse began…”)